This story begins
with Jesus’ disciples in the midst of circumstances that would leave even the most self-respecting of former fishermen worried and afraid.
The disciples have just left Jesus alone to pray after a long day of teaching and feeding the multitudes, and it isn’t long before the sun goes down, the winds start whooshing, the waves start waving, and pretty soon, the little boat they’re waiting in starts to shift out onto the water...without their leader. Just when it seems like it can’t get any worse, who shows up but a ghost....or so they thought.
"It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
This is a story about fear.
It’s the kind of fear that gives you the shakes and ties your tongue and steals your appetite, the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night with a knot in your stomach and a worry in your heart that maybe everything you love isn’t safe after all. And it’s at this point, at the height of a knee-knocking fear, that Jesus says something important to his disciples, to you, and to me:
"Take courage! I am. Don't be afraid."
Amidst all the hundreds and some-odd commands in the Bible, this one comes up by far the most: Do. Not. Fear.
I think the command about fear keeps resurfacing because God knows just how much we do fear. As people, we’re afraid of everything from public speaking to poltergeists. The whole world seems to make us afraid: the waiting room, the verdict, the answer, the diagnosis, the future, the relationship, the commitment, the disappointment, the wind and the waves, they all make us afraid. So Christ reassures us. Take courage. Don’t be afraid.
Because, he says, I Am.
So many translators have turned this into a cute reassurance: “Take heart! It is I!” or “Be of good cheer! I am here!” as if Jesus is a kind hearted mentor from an After-School Feelgoodery. And while I’m sure it would have been comforting to find out that what you thought was a fiend is actually a friend, Jesus is saying something infinitely more profound.
What Jesus says, literally, is eigo eimi - "I Am" - the name God called himself at the burning bush. Take courage, friends. I am God. Ssshhh. Calm down. I Am.
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
There’s an important word in Peter’s response. If. If it’s you...
And that word, if, is dripping with fear and doubt. If is used this way several other times in Matthew. The first few occur when Satan is tempting Jesus in the desert. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. The last, when Jesus is hanging on the cross. If you are the son of God, come down. If you are who you say you are...show us.
And Peter joins the chorus, as if to say..."Ok, sure, hi Jesus...*clearing his throat* but really? If you’re God...prove it. ”
And Jesus responds: "Come." Because it's him. It really is him.
It takes courage to walk toward Jesus in the midst of fear, in what seems like an impossible situation, when maybe you’re not even sure if it’s really him. But Peter steps out of the boat, and onto the water.
So Jesus reaches out his hand, and catches him.
Faith doesn’t always banish our fear, but it does teach us whose hand will catch us when we’re falling.
Fear is something so many of us experience every day. It's a natural part of being human. We fear big things and small things and things in between - tornadoes and terrorism and World War III. Some of our fears come from within and some from without. We are afraid that we won’t be able to provide. We are afraid of unrequited love or of never finding love at all. Some of us fear that maybe our dreams don’t match God’s plans for us, that we’ve misheard God’s call...or that maybe we haven’t. Some of us fear being exposed for who we really are. Some of us are afraid of the work it will take to get healthy and whole.
Our fear is real, it's potent, and in so many ways, it has the power to shape us, to drive us, to transform us into people we were never intended to be. Our fear keeps us sinking in the wind and waves of insecurity. It keeps us from forgiving or asking for forgiveness. It drives us to manipulate or to grasp at control. It keeps sin in the dark, relationships from being mended, wounds from being healed, gifts from being realized, truth from being told. It seams together fig leaves and keeps us in hiding, and makes Jesus look like a ghost instead of like God.
This is a story about us.
Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, so much of our fear comes from the if, this idea that maybe, just maybe, Jesus isn’t who he says he is. We fear that his promises won't stand on water.
But it’s in all these moments, in what can feel like the worst of moments, at the height of fear, that we find Jesus walking toward us: “Take courage! Don’t be afraid. I Am.”
We might try to control the situation, bark orders at God to show himself, to prove his promises, but even when we can't recognize him over the wind and the waves, it’s him. It really is him, just like he said. And when we're really afraid, sometimes all we can do is believe him.
Fear is a reminder of just how much we need Jesus to survive this place. It can drive us to trust, to lean on Christ instead of ourselves. His promises stand on water, not least of all, because he does, and even when everything around us seems to be sinking, when we grasp at the hand that’s reaching out to us, when we finally realize that Christ is exactly who he says he is, then gradually, gradually, our fear will turn into trust.
And trust in the Lord is real. It’s potent. It has the power to shape us, to drive us, to transform us into the people we were always intended to be.
Everywhere in Scripture, we see this big and powerful God who walks on water, reaching out his hand to those of us who doubt, who approach life afraid sometimes, who aren’t always sure of our steps.
Because this God of the burning bush, huge and mysterious, numbers both the stars and the hairs on our heads. This God, creator of 108 billion people so far and counting, the God whose fingers formed the moon and milky way and the Eagle Nebula, who breathes in and exhales and out comes a star, who walks on water and calms the storm, this God cares more about your every breath, your every thought, your every hope, your every fear, than anyone else in all the universe, even more than you do.
This is a story about Christ,
mighty and awesome, the Great I Am, the One who displays his power over wind and waves and sometimes, for reasons we aren't always told, waits to quiet the sea until after we can see him better. But in the midst of it all, he's also the One who reaches out his hand when we’re scared and sinking, saying: “Take courage. I Am. Don’t be afraid,” and walks with us through the storm.
Truly, this is the Son of God.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Are you feeling more hope or more fear these days? Is anything making you afraid? What’s preventing you from trusting in Christ?
Today, pray the words of Psalm 27.
If you can, put on a jacket and take a walk or drive to the ocean. Think about what it means to you that the God who controls the wind and the waves also walks towards you in the midst of life’s storms.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Ex. 3:14.
- Ps. 33:6.